Australia has invested a lot in anti-Murri racism. Racism created the health and social gaps. Racism took the children away. Racism stole our land. It’s a tax on every transaction that Murris have with the colony. And like the stink of a dead kangaroo on the side of the road, there’s nothing Murris can do to avoid it.
White Australia needs to change itself for racism to be fixed. It’ll require mega-shifts in power that they may not be ready for. It’ll need more than translating the lyrics of “I am, You Are, We Are Australian” into you local Aboriginal language (which for some, is the height of anti-racism efforts). The lack of critical race awareness among white Australia has left them awaiting instruction.
So to help build some momentum for tackling this historic hill, we need to start rejecting the smaller, everyday presentations of racism. Clearing out these littler racisms will make it harder for the bigger racisms to find purchase, and they’ll eventually roll away, possibly landing in Tasmania.
Studies on racism by health and social scientists have documented and measured the negative impact that everyday racisms have on a Murris’ wellbeing. Racism is a significant factor contributing to increased blood pressure; stress; and lower rates of access to health services. They’ve named the phenomena of everyday racisms as micro-aggressions. It’s an epidemic affecting most of the country, urgent action is required now.
As the PM recently and bizzarley set the precedent for, let’s position this crisis in a cricket metaphor: Australia needs to score 10 an over off the last 2 overs to win. The bowlers are sending down beach balls on a platter, and Warner is at the crease.
It’s time for some quick runs, and one of the racist micro-aggressions we can smash over-the-fence-and-out is the racist imagery we’re presented with on a daily basis, such as the design on the standard Australian $2 coin.
The Royal Australian Mint website notes that “The image on the Australian two dollar coin represents an archetype of an Aboriginal tribal elder, designed by Horst Hahne [who is white].” This coin features a hypothetical “Aboriginal man”. A colonial fantasy: shirtless with ceremonial scarring, long hair and a big sovereign beard – the legal tender version of Neville the concrete Aboriginal.
The $2 coin design also includes the southern cross; a black boy bush; and the letters “HH”. All it needs is a frog doing the OK hand-sign to complete the white supremacy symbolism bingo.
The racism in deciding to put an unnamed “Aboriginal man” on the $2 coins lies in what it symbolizes in the context of the Australian colonial project. It’s positioned within the original sin of the very first fleet: the myth of terra nullius.
By having an unnamed brother on the $2 coin, and native animals featured on all the other coins, it presents Murris as being closer to fauna than human. By representing us thusly, they make it pretty easy to buy the yarn spun by racism that our people lack aspirations and agency.
Reportedly the image of the archetype tribal Elder on the $2 coin is based on a portrait of Mr Gwoya Tjungurrayi. It would be great if his name was on the coin, and we could use it to educate everyone about his life. However, the official description of the design makes it clear that that’s not actually him. The State’s position is to erase his identity and use his likeness to perpetuate stereotypes of what “real” Murris should look like – further contributing to the erasure of all Murris identity’s too.
In the absence of fact, people fall back on assumptions and stereotypes.
Murris are not widely represented in society, so for a lot of coloniser- and settler-Australians, this is as close as they will physically get to touching as Aboriginal person.
When you don’t know any Aboriginal people and you see the $2 coin, along with any number of other racist representations of Murris on a daily basis (e.g. racial slurs as place names; libelously suggesting we’re all child abusers on morning TV; racist cartoons in national newspapers), it seeps into your sub-conscious. Like the adverse impacts microaggressions have on Murris’ health, these symbols compound for non-indigenous people. Murris are a primitive people can then become a big part of how they perceive all Murri people today.
Thoughts become words, words become actions.
Passive racist ideas enable more serious acts of racist behaviour in the form of trespass (#toostrongforyoukaren); segregation [Elder humiliated at bushfire evacuation camp]; and theft [native title watered down].
We cannot afford to spend any more time waiting on racism to acquit itself.
Make it known today that you find the imagery on the $2 coin unacceptable by directly communicating with your local member for parliament and signing the online petition
A small change to the small change in our pockets could buy us all a much richer future.
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